The worldwide Augustana College experience

First Days in Kingston

 

     When we arrived at the Alpha Schools yesterday morning, all the high school girls were waiting outside. The high school at Alpha is an all girls school, and these girls take their education very seriously. So seriously that over 100 of them showed up yesterday on their holiday break to learn material they did not cover due to missed days of school from Hurricane Sandy. I was extremely impressed by this, as I know that I probably would not have done that when I was in high school. The girls all gathered for a morning assembly where they sang and got introduced to their new teachers for the next few days. I found myself growing teary eyed as they were introducing Dr. Egan, realizing how much he has done for this school in the past, how much it means to him, and how  important education is to the students there. It was really touching, and I felt so proud to be a part of this experience.

     Getting over to the boys campus was a different atmosphere, as the Alpha Boys School is home to young boys whose families can’t care for them, are orphans, or are on a “last chance” by court order. The boys here learn academics as well as some sort of trade, like music or woodworking, in hopes of preparing them for a job when they leave Alpha. Many famous reggae musicians began in the Alpha Boys School, including one of Bob Marley’s sons. All 80 beds that the school houses are in one big room, like a camp. The boys have morning chores and adhere to a very set schedule. At the girls school, there was very much a positive attitude towards education and a sense of encouragement and empowerment for the girls, in that they recognize that in other parts of the world, girls don’t get to go to school and that makes them take their schooling more seriously. At the boys school, the attitude seemed a little more negative, and it felt like there was more of a notion that they are there for a reason and don’t have another choice but to be there; that this was all they had keeping them from the streets or jail. The attitude at the boys school seemed to be this is your only chance, take it or leave it. At the girls school, it seemed more that “leave it” wasn’t an option; this is their chance, and they’re taking it willingly.
     Getting organized at the boys school was extremely frustrating, in that nobody could really get the boys all together and tell us their ages and ability levels. Thankfully we met Brother Armand, who helped us get things together and knew enough about all the boys to place them in similar ability-level groups and help us set up a schedule. I honestly don’t know how we would have been able to get anything going if we hadn’t met him. We didn’t end up getting started working with them until after lunch, but once we did, things went well. Our whole elementary group was really impressed with the boys’ enthusiasm and politeness. While some got a little rambunctious and silly, as all boys do, we could definitely tell they are trained to be polite and proper.
     Today, the second day, was much more organized, and we were able to get more accomplished. We were able to see all of the boys, whereas yesterday we were only able to work with the first and second grade ability levels. Although we have split the boys into “grades,” the ages and grades don’t necessarily equate. For example, the “second graders” are actually mostly around 9 years old but are at what we would consider a second grade ability level. All the boys have been really receptive to the activities we’ve been doing. We have been trying to make it more interactive and exciting for them since we found out that their typical learning is more lecture style, and they seem to be thoroughly enjoying it. We taught them the nines trick on your fingers for multiples of nine, which they thought was the coolest thing, and partial products. Many of us seniors were really shocked at how quickly they picked this up and how much sense it made to them because when we had taught it in our student teaching to students in the US, they did not care for it at all.
     The older boys were far more advanced than we thought they would be. We found out they could add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions and multiple decimals. I was really impressed by that, and it was interesting to watch their thought processes as they solved some of the problems. I was a little nervous about working with these older boys that we were equating to about 5th-6th grade, but actually ranged in ages from 11-15. We had been warned going into this that some of the older boys, because they rarely see girls, let alone young American girls, may try to get away with “flirting” with us. However, we found these older boys to be just as polite as the ones we had worked with the day before. At one point I asked one boy a question and he responded with “Yeah” and his friend next to him told him “Not ‘yeah,’ it’s ‘Yes, miss.’” I thought it was really sweet how his friend corrected him and was pushing him to be more polite.
     We ended a little early with the group of older boys and got a chance to go see what the music group was up to. We had been told by our classmates working with the musicians that many of the boys don’t know how to read music or only can a very little bit, yet can play beautifully and learn to do so just by listening. When we were in the music room, we heard a group of them play “Lean on Me,” and I again felt myself getting teary eyed listening to them play, not only because it is so impressive that they can do that without knowing how to read music, but also because of how the song fits the context of their situation. The boys in the Alpha Band seem to be among the hardest working and most respectful of the students at the boy’s school because they really see music as their way out and know how hard they have to work to become good in order to do that. Listening to them was truly inspiring and put the boy’s school in a different perspective for me.
    While the experience at the school got off to a bumpy start, it has still managed to be an amazing one. I’ve always said that teachers have just as much to learn from their students as their students do from them, and I’m finding that to be more and more true through this experience. It’s sad to only have one day left with the kids, but I can only hope that some of what we have taught them will stick and help them out once they begin regular classes again next week. I’m excited to see how our final day goes, and while I am sad to see this experience and the trip come to a close, I hope that we can all leave knowing we’ve helped these kids in any way we can during the time we were here.

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